A patient's open letter to mental health workers

20/09/2016

*Kin is a 37 year old Bachelor of Science (Technology) graduate who describes himself as ‘optimistic, but with a sense of realism’.  On top of producing music in his spare time, Kin is a keen swimmer – ‘usually 100 lengths’ - and taught himself to play the drums - ‘just for fun’.

Undoubtedly bright and ambitious, what makes Kin exceptional is that he spent the last 17 years of his life in secure mental health care. Now, as he moves towards a low secure setting for the first time, Kin reflects on the people who have cared for him along this journey.

Being admitted into a mental health facility is intimidating. It doesn’t matter how hardened by life you are or what you’ve previously gone through, it is not a nice experience. You are put together in a locked ward with people you don’t know, usually without any kind of insight into what the environment will be like, or how long it might be until you get out.

But, over time, you get to know your peers and start to care about them. They’re just like you, with the same worries, the same illnesses. It is the mental health workers – our momentary carers and guardians - who consume most of our thoughts.

The mental health system is quite flawed in a lot of ways, but it is the people who work in it that make it as good as it can be. When you break it down, a career in mental health is not just learning about mental illness. It is learning about human beings. As a member of staff, you are my link to the outside world. You are the person that’s been put in charge of proving to me that there are nice people in the world. When you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you don’t always believe that’s the case. But it gives me hope that I can be seen for my strengths, not just my weaknesses.

Although I know I have an illness, the same emotional rules that apply to you also apply to me.  A negative person is the difference between me staying in medium secure to me moving to low. I am not going to open up to someone who I don’t trust – not because I’m difficult, but because I’m scared of being hurt. I don’t take notice of negative comments and criticisms – not because I think I’m perfect, but because I know it’s the positive people who are worth listening to. I fret over what you’ve written in my case file, particularly if you’re secretive about it. That’s because I know what it’s like to have someone’s personal dislike inked through my records.

I’ve seen you hit, kicked, spat at, abused and threatened. I see it upset you, I feel it upset me. But you need to stay strong. Before you can understand me, you need to understand yourself – your emotions, your core beliefs. I can’t go home at the end of the day, but you can still make me feel like a valuable person. I want to be exposed to responsibility. I want to be trusted, be joked with.  I don’t want our relationship to jeopardise my freedom. I have a lot to lose. At the same time, you have a lot to gain. Through the work you do, you have the ability to change my life. You have the ability to change a lot of lives.

We won’t know each other forever. In fact, I’ll soon be moving on to a low secure ward. Hopefully, not long after that I’ll start my own life in the community. When this happens, don’t be upset if our relationship changes, if I no longer spend as much time with you or seek your help and advice. Be proud that I am no longer in a position to need it. Be proud that for the first time in 17 years, it will be me asking myself what I am going to do today. That riding my bike into town, shopping and using the internet are no longer things I dream about, they are things I can do freely.

 *Name changed.